Janna Levin has a new book out! Can’t wait to read it.
With Rinus Van De Velde
“We suffer from a strange kind of amnesia. Yes, we are individuals with a personal history, machines with a particular wiring that generate meanings. But our daily existence is also one big mess of words, impulses and experiences, tiny explosions that renew who we are at every infinitesimal moment.” (Conrad M.)”
If, in the immediate aftermath of Homo sapiens petrolerus, the tanks and towers of the Texas petrochemical patch all detonated together in one spectacular roar, after the oily smoke cleared, there would remain melted roads, twisted pipe, crumpled sheathing, and crumbled concrete. White hot incandescence would have jump-started the corrosion of scrap metals in the salt air, and the polymer chains in hydrocarbon residues would likewise have cracked into smaller, more digestible lengths, hastening biodegradation. Despite the expelled toxins, the soils would also be enriched with burnt carbon, and after a year of rains switchgrass would be growing. A few hardy wildflowers would appear. Gradually, life would resume.
Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son Achilleus and its devastation.
Re-reading The Iliad has been fairly eye-opening. Back in high school I actually sympathized with Paris and Helen. This time around, it’s Achilles I’m feeling for. His reluctance to fight, his open criticism of the war, his heartbroken acceptance that he will in fact lose his life in a wholly pointless campaign… How did I miss all this the first time around?
Achilles isn’t even in his essence a military figure. He is famously vulnerable and unnaturally defined by his mortality. He has been raised to know the arts of healing, and tricked into going. And yet he is the hero because he alone has the nature and the stature to think and speak as an individual. He alone stands apart and challenges heroic convention.
What else did I miss the first time around?
The greatest war story ever told basically commemorates a war that established no boundaries, won no territory, and furthered no cause. Worse yet, it’s hero dies a pointless death.
The ‘rap game’ has a history that can be traced all the way back to the 14th Century Mali Empire in Africa, where each warrior king had their own professional poet/singer known as a griot. Griots functioned as wandering bards, ‘rapping’ to the people about the going-ons in the empire. A good griot had to be able to sing traditional songs, but more importantly, he had to be able to extemporize about current events, politics, love, and history. Soon every town had their own griot, and this was how information spread.
Rap stems from this griot tradition, but in modern music it’s considered a subgenre of the Hip Hop Culture that began in the Bronx, a by-product of racist urban planning. In the late 1950s, Robert Moses decided to build an expressway through the heart of the Bronx. Almost over night, the middle class Italian, German, Irish, and Jewish neighborhoods disappeared. Businesses and factories relocated and left. By 1969, most of the remaining middle-class had fled the Bronx and slumlords began taking over buildings renting to poor black and Hispanic families. Poverty became a way of life, and gangs began to rule the streets. Graffiti emerged from the gang culture, became a way of life with its own code of behavior, secret gathering places, slang, and esthetic standards. Continue reading
St. John’s College has been kind enough to publish their core curriculum reading list in its entirety, and I’ve decided to re-read everything on it starting with the Freshman list.